Have you tried focusing on the living?

“Have you tried focusing on the living?” Eve asked.

“I find I usually do.” He replied in an off-guard, puzzled tone.

“No, no. The living are you and me right now, in this moment. Whatever happened in the past is dead.”

She was very high. Sitting on the couch at another one of James’s parties her eyes were half-shut but staring intently at Evan, who was sitting on the floor beside the couch.

“But every moment led up to this one, so there’s no way they’re dead.”

“Yes, but, what are you when you’re stuck thinking about your past?” she paused for effect and then pushed against his chest, “You’re dead.”

The music was loud but he could hear his heartbeat. Eve kept her hand on Evan’s shoulder, her face held closer to his.

“You have to stop this, Evan. I’m saying this because I like you. She’s gone, Sam’s gone, Diane’s gone, but,” she looked around to all the people surrounding them and returned to Evan, “we’re all right here with you, now. See?”

He moved his gaze down to his shoes.

“Hey,” she said, “you have the chance to have a good night tonight. It’s your choice.”

He returned to Eve’s eyes, “No…no…you’re right. It’s just a little overwhelming is all.”

“I know. It’s not easy. I know you really cared for them but…you’re a good person, and you deserve to be happy.”

He felt he knew what it would take.

“Thanks, Eve. Really.”

He walked to the kitchen and put an open bottle of Malbec to his lips. That burning burgundy struck something inside of him, dominoes that winded from his throat to his heart to his brain, tumbling over themselves clumsily. He saw people talking to each other but couldn’t make out the words they were saying, the sounds forming a fog that left Evan lost. What were they talking about? He stood in the kitchen with the bottle in his hand, watching a game of beer pong through eyes that were filling up with seawater.

“Shit.” He whispered to himself. Walking outside into the darkness with his bottle he felt a deep weight within his chest. The weight pulled him down onto the soft grass at the edge of James’s driveway, where the music from inside was low enough so that he could think.

What if Eve was right? Why did he wake up each morning thinking about some far off better time? He hated how he was afraid of talking to new people. The prospect of failure loomed too great, and he would get stuck in its shadow trying to find other souls in the darkness.

He sipped the courage potion until he was convinced it was a dud. It just wasn’t coming. He was becoming existential, what his friend Ally called “Louis C.K. drunk”.

The thoughts and questions crashed into each other until they no longer mattered. He didn’t feel entirely better, but things seemed to calm down inside him.

He left the empty bottle on the edge of the driveway where the dirt met grass, and walked off towards the river.

On the walk there, the sidewalk stretched ahead of him, parts reflecting and shimmering the light from the streetlights and cars driving past. There were homes with some rooms lit and others completely dark. He thought of the families in those houses, wondered what they did, if they had kids maybe how their kids were doing, if the parents were happy with their lives. The alcohol was really starting to set in, as Evan found himself floating along the pavement towards the water.

The water was soft and sweet but Evan felt lonely there standing in what small light the streetlights afforded him. Deep beneath the black water in that dark expanse was a time and place where Evan felt happy and he wanted to travel there but knew it couldn’t be so easy. In his chest his feelings were a low furnace, warmth radiating from the center out towards his extremities. The cool air felt good, he thought, and he reached his hand down into the icy water. He stood back up and traced some of the water onto his cheeks and his neck.

Evan walked back downtown, past the bars, past Diane’s house, past where she used to work. Each place was stuck in one place and time for Evan. Those places, like bugs in amber, seemed to be suffocating from the inward pressure of frigid complacency. Those places were still alive, but Evan could only see them as if trapped in a photograph from months before. The photographs in his mind made him recall the past and he wished to return there. He was focused on the dead. Eve had been right.

Evan opened the back door to James’s apartment and found that most of the people had since left, save James, his roommate, and his girlfriend. It is 2 AM.

He heard the roommate yell from down the hall “That is not my problem.” as she walked from her room.

“What’s going on?” Evan asked.

“Someone is puking in the shower.”

“Ah, Jesus. Let me handle it.”

He walked into the bathroom and saw Nick sitting on the shower’s floor. His head was between his knees, and there was vomit leading from between his feet to the drain of the shower.

“Oh no. Hey man, how are you doing?” Evan asked in a caring, maternal, tone.

Nick, with his eyes closed, croaked out, “Shit, man. Not too good.”

“I see that. Here let me help.”

Nick groaned as Evan helped him sit back a little further on the shower floor. Then he helped him sit onto the side of the shower.

“Here, sit on the toilet and I’ll get this cleaned up.”

Nick gagged and threw up into the toilet a little.

“Aw man, I’m so sorry.” Evan said.

Evan turned the warm water on and pointed the shower head in various directions to clean up the mess. He put his hand in the stream of the water coming from the showerhead and rubbed some of the water on the back of Nick’s neck.

Evan remembered that Nick had biked there that night.

“Hey, I’ll give you a ride home, ok? You stay here and I’ll try to get the bike into my backseat.”

“Ok,” Nick replied, and then gagged some more.

“Do you want any water?”

“No, no sense.” Nick replied. Good point.

Evan walked to the front door, and down the stairs where Nick’s bike was resting against the handrail. It was a dark blue road bike, with the skinniest bike tires he had ever seen. The handrails looked like the curved horns of rams. Evan imagined packs of these road bikes rolling around in fields near towering mountains, ramming into each other to establish dominance and have mating rights with the mopeds.

He examined the wheels, and saw that the first one could come off with a simple lever release and a little unscrewing by hand. Evan’s back seat was messy and jumbled. He fumbled with the thin metal and wheels to get them to fit just right. He ended up rolling down one of the windows and letting some of the handlebars hang outside of the car.

After he had shut the door with the bike inside, Evan listened to the river roaring nearby. The night had gotten a little colder, and that made him feel alive. When he hated himself his freshman year in college, he used to go on long runs in the freezing cold in winter wearing only shorts and a t-shirt. It was self-harm, but it made him feel better, at least at the time.

Evan walked back to the bathroom, where Nick had his head hovering over the toilet. There was a small amount of red vomit on the toilet seat.

“Alright man. Let’s get you home and asleep.”

“Ugh…”

Evan asked James for a plastic bag for the road.

Evan walked with Nick’s arm over his shoulder to the car.

“I have to get my bike…”

“No it’s ok. I put it in the backseat.”

“Oh.”

“You just relax, ok? Just keep your head in the plastic bag, and I’ll handle the rest.”

Nick was despondent. He was still gagging but throwing up very little content. It was as if his body had staged a military coup d’état against the reign of the liquor and once regaining power was destroying a little extra just to establish their message.

“Alright man, where do you live?” Evan asked him.

“Ugh, um, 142 Park road.”

“Alright man, that’s not too far from here.”

Evan backed out of the narrow channel of James’s driveway. The streets were empty. He drove to where the GPS told him 142 Park road was, but it landed him right in the driveway of the University. No good.

“Hey, hey Nick?”

Nick was mostly asleep. No response.

“Nick?”

Evan pulled into the driveway adjacent to the University’s.

“Nick is this your house?”

Evan shook Nick’s shoulder lightly.

“Is this your house?” He said, with a tinge of frustration.

Evan got out of the car and left it running. He walked up to the vehicles in the driveway and surveyed each bumper. He found one that had a “Bagel Metro” bumper sticker, where Nick worked.

Evan took the bike out from the backseat and locked it to the staircase leading to the back door. There was a man smoking a cigarette on the steps.

“Hey man.” Evan said.

The man just nodded.

Evan went back to the car.

“Nick, you’re home man.”

He was completely passed out.

“Fuck damn it.”

Evan shook Nick’s shoulder again.

“Nick, you’re home.”

He kept groaning with each shake.

“C’mon, man. Let’s go.”

Nick finally lifted his head and mumbled, “No. No, I live on 35 Forest Ave. I’m sorry.”

No he doesn’t, thought Evan. He had picked Nick up from 35 Forest Ave once before for a concert and that was his family’s house, maybe 30 minutes from where they were currently.

“Damnit, Nick. Is this your house or not?”

“…”

“Nick, is this your house?”

“God damnit.” Evan said, while he pulled out of the driveway.

“I’m taking you to my house, alright? You can spend the night.”

“No, no. I have to work at 7 AM.”

“That’s ok, I can drive you in.”

Nick fell back asleep.

Evan had always loved late-night drives. It was when he felt most at-ease, peaceful. He knew it was dangerous waters, at night, with all the Goddamn drunk drivers out and about, but he kept to his own and drove defensively.

His apartment creeped up into view, closer and closer, until he was driving right up to its front door.

“Alright man, let’s go.” He said, in a tired voice.

Evan opened the passenger door and pulled Nick from the car. Nick caught himself on his own two legs, two legs of jelly matter, so Evan helped him up.

Nick stood up on his own, slightly offended that Evan had just pulled him from the car.

The door handle was cold to the touch. Evan flicked on the light that lit up the stairwell up to his second-floor apartment.

Evan looked back and saw Nick leaning against his car.

“Alright man, come up when you’re ready, ok?”

Nick just looked down at his feet.

Evan walked up the stairs through the door and into the kitchen. Evan set a towel down around the toilet, so that Nick could purge his system if need-be.

He saw Jane’s door slightly ajar, and walked in.

“Hey Jane.” He said, in a piercing whisper.

“Hmm?” She moaned.

“I’m going to let my friend stay the night. He drank too much. If he starts throwing up too loudly I can play some music for you to drown it out.”

“Oh…Oh ok.” She said, in a half-dream state.

Evan walked back to the stairwell and saw Nick at the bottom.

“I have to go home man.”

“I know.”

On the drive back to Nick’s home (142 Park road), Nick leaned comfortably against the passenger door window and rested.

“I’m sorry.” He said.

“It’s ok.”

Evan helped Nick up the stairs and into his room.

“I’ll get you some water, ok?”

“Ok.”

“Have a nice night, man.”

“Ok. Thank you.”

Evan sank into his bed by 4:30AM. Colors flashed and jumped about behind his closed eyelids. The world was asleep beyond his window and he yearned to join those tired masses.

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Are you hungry?

“Are you hungry?” Laura asked.

“A little. It’s a little late.”

I was sitting on Laura’s bed with my back against the wall. Laura’s head was on my lap. She was facing up at me. I was running my fingers through her hair, sprawling curls out one by one over my leg and onto the comforter.

“Do you like carrots?”

“Yes.”

“And hummus?”

“Of course.”

“Okay.” Laura grabbed hold of my shoulders and lifted her face up to mine, kissed me, said,
“Wait here.”

She hopped off the bed (literally, I don’t know why anyone would want a bed raised so much,) grabbed her water bottle off her desk and walked out. I heard the click of a light switch and then the all-too sweet sound of opening a fridge. Her comforter was lime green, illuminated by soft yellow light from her desk lamp. The walls more resembled the light, blending in as a light washed-out beige. I noticed I was smiling, and I noticed that these were the glory days. Just above my head on the wall was a series of small colorful cloth squares strung along every foot or so, like clothes on a clothesline, their patterns folded in diverse ways along the wall, and I stared at those patterns and at one point reached up to feel the texture of the cloth. On my hand was a scrape that was healing, a souvenir from tripping while hiking the previous weekend. My soul hummed, oscillating and bending to fit harmoniously with the passing waves of time. In my chest was a beating heart.

Laura returned with a plate and set it on the desk so that she could jump up onto the bed. She reached over and brought the plate between us. Baby carrots unarranged on the ceramic, two separate dollops of hummus lay beside them.

I asked her, “Is one for you and one for me?”

She smirked a bit, and replied, “Well, um, yeah, I didn’t know if you liked sharing food. You know, ‘germs’. I mean, I don’t mind, you know, sharing food.”

Laura took a carrot and slid it into her mouth, chewing for a short while before staring back at me.

She kind of laughed while saying, “What?”

I said, “I just think we’re kind of passed that, by now. I mean we’ve…”

“Yeah, well.” She sighed, defeated.

“I just want you to know that my germs are your germs, and that your beautiful germs are my germs.”

“Thanks, Matt. You’re right. I’d even say our germs like each other.”

“Let’s just hope their mutant offspring don’t kill half of humanity in some devastating plague.”

“‘mutant offspring’ is no way to describe our grandchildren, Matthew.”

I lift the plate to emphasize the two distanced dollops of hummus, “You didn’t even want germ grandchildren until I brought it up.”

“Well, this is too much stress to put on our developing germ child.”

“I could play some Mozart.”

“You don’t like Mozart.”

“Yeah well only because Beethoven is one-hundred times better.”

“Matt, you know how I feel about this and we’re not having this fight again tonight. I don’t want to put Charlie through that.”

I said, “Oh, you named it now? Charlie’s an awful name for a germ-child.”

“Well it’s better than mutant offspring, Matt.”

“Actually, that’s debatable.”

Goddamn it inside of my heart I was screaming I love you so fucking much but I knew I couldn’t let those words slip out into the real world just yet. When you say I love you it doesn’t just travel through the air to the one you say it to. No, I love you, when spoken, travels from your mouth out into a stream of moments you’ve shared together, transforming into a blunt trauma of emotion by the time it travels upstream and reaches the person you said it to. But the words were young; fragile, and so I kept them locked inside there.

“These baby carrots are really good. Thank you for sharing them with me.” I said coyly.

“You know, Charlie’s our little baby carrot, in a way.”

“I’m really not talking about this anymore, Laura.”

“Alright.”

She sat there finishing her baby carrots, then leaned down and placed the plate on the desk.

Laura sat back on the bed and leaned in close, “Hey. Do you want to listen to music?”

“Yeah, I do. Can I give you a backrub?”

“Do you really want to give me a backrub or do you just want me out of this shirt?”

“Both, all, I want all of it. But I do want to give you a backrub”

Laura had been good at playing hard to get, but by now her desires were starting to show regularly and that made me feel alive. The light from her fluorescent veins was growing brighter day by day and in the night the luminous roadmaps under her skin lit up beautifully soft and blue. Chopin’s Nocturnes was painting over the silence as my hands painted over Laura’s skin. Soft, warm, alive. I arched my back down and kissed the area between Laura’s shoulders. I love you so fucking much. Shh. The trees outside tapped their fingers against the glass. What a time to be alive.

I woke up pretty early the next morning, and I kissed Laura on her forehead before leaving for class.

“No…” She groaned, reaching a hand out towards me but I had to go and so I left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There, just behind you

 

There, just behind you (don’t look now!) is a field where you spent time as a child, running through thickets chasing grasshoppers that jumped towards the sky and fluttered for a moment before crashing back into the ground. You used to wonder how with all their gusto and equipment they never could learn to fly. Here he comes running up, now (turn around!).

Take it in. You run your hand over the soft skin of his face. The long, curly light brown hair, slowly bleached by the sun, feels welcoming. You hug him close. He has no idea who you are but you come to him in a dream. In this dream he has also seen what his brother will look like fifteen years’ time. He is afraid. You remember.

What do you tell him? What can you tell him, to prepare him for the next fifteen years? You’re tongue-tied. You forget the entire English language as your brain is awash with the waves of memory and time, subtle at first and then immense, just like the life you have lived since running in the field on that day.

Tell him about your dad. Do it now. Tell him to enjoy every goddamn moment with that man because he is fading from view more and more each passing day. His face is turning lighter and lighter until light itself can pass through it. He picks you up one day and you fall right through him. Embarrassed, he tries to pick you up but you are too heavy and he is too translucent. He drops you off with your mom and heads home, until the day he is put into a grave.

You can’t. How could you?

Tell him about the years in middle school. Those ugly, scarred years, tinged with the pain of existential dread, the life sucked from you. Tell him.

Maybe prepare him for the years ahead. Try to explain to this child how his college years will define him and he will find someone really special.

You want to tell him about the best friend he will meet in high school, and how that friendship will largely define him as a person.

But you can’t really tell him all that.

So you just hug that child and stand beside him and watch the sun set together in this perfect moment. The field starts to crumble, pieces falling away to the creeping darkness. It consumes everything in its path and then it sweeps over you and the child. You rustle the kid’s hair, wait for the sun.